East Carolina University interim chancellor resigns amid UNC System investigation

East Carolina University’s interim chancellor resigned Saturday amid a UNC System investigation into his actions after photos and videos showed him drinking and dancing with students at bars near the Greenville campus.

“Make no mistake: the responsibility is mine,” Dan Gerlach said in a statement.

“It is not the press, not the University or system leadership, and not anyone else who put me in this situation,” he said. “It was I who made the choices that led to this action. There is no one to hold accountable for the situation except me.”

Gerlach had been placed on administrative leave after the images spread on social media and across news outlets in late September.

The photos and videos showed Gerlach chugging alcohol with college-aged patrons, dancing with young women and putting his arms around them at the Club 519 bar. He also went to Sup Dogs, a popular student bar near campus, with two off-duty police officers he was hanging out with that night.

Gerlach said he felt embarrassment and regret toward his family, colleagues and “all of Pirate nation who believed in me so strongly.”

“I was sent here to reduce the drama that ECU faced, and I instead added to it,” he said in his statement. “I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me. I hope also that all of Pirate Nation will focus all of the energy and vigor toward supporting the ongoing leadership at ECU.”

Supporters sought reinstatement

At the time, Gerlach said being at the bars that late was not good judgment but that he was trying to connect with ECU students and be seen as approachable. He said in a radio interview with Pirate Radio Live that he didn’t think that night would keep him out of the running for the chancellor’s job full time.

Thousands of ECU fans, students and others supported him. They signed petitions and started social media campaigns demanding that Gerlach be reinstated.

But UNC system leaders disagreed.

“I believe that this action is in the best interests of the entire East Carolina University community,” UNC System interim President Bill Roper said in a statement Saturday.

ECU provost Ron Mitchelson has been acting chancellor while Gerlach was on leave, and Roper said he’s working on identifying the next interim chancellor.

Gerlach was appointed to the role at ECU in April and started on May 6, after former chancellor Cecil Staton left the job.

While Gerlach had no experience running a university, he did know how to run a successful business and focused on fixing ECU’s financial situation. Before ECU, Gerlach was the president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities, and served as a budget and financial adviser to former Gov. Mike Easley.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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